Transactional Analysis

Transactional analysis is can be summed up as the study of interactions between individual people. However, the theory of transaction analysis delves into many more aspects than just interactions. It discusses the roots of these actions and how they are learned. In psychology, transactional analysis therapy can be used to help patients identify patterns in relationships and help them change these relationship structures.

Introduction to Transactional Analysis

The theory of transactional analysis was developed by Eric Berne in the middle of the 20th century as a way of explaining human behavior. However, ideas about human behavior predate Berne. Most notably was the work of Sigmund Freud which believed that the human personality is composed of three parts: the Id, Ego, and Superego. The Id is part of the emotional mind, the Ego part of the rational mind, and the Superego an expression of values/morals.

Berne’s theory of transactional analysis was based on these ideas of Freud. However, Berne’s theories are distinctly different from those of Freud and other psychotherapists of the time. Freudian psychotherapists focused on talk therapy as a way of gaining insight to their patient’s personalities. Berne believed that the problem could be discovered by analyzing patients’ social transactions.

There are three core assumptions which form the basis of transactional analysis:

  • All people are equally valid and important. Everyone is “okay.”
  • All people (with the exceptions of the physically damaged) are capable of thinking
  • All people can decide their own stories and destinies. These decisions can be changed.

Core Beliefs of Transactional Analysis

A “transaction” is any sort of social interaction, such as verbal communication, eye contact, or touch. A “stroke” is an act of recognition of a transaction. Transaction analysis theory believes that humans are social beings and, if put in a situation together, a transaction will eventually happen. Analysis of these transactions can provide insight to psychology.

Like Freud, Berne believed that humans have ego states. However, ego states as defined by transactional analysis theory are different than Freud’s concept: with transactional analysis, the ego states are physical constructions, not just concepts. The ego states can be viewed by analyzing transactions. Berne defined three ego states which appear in all patients:

  • Parent: the parent ego consists of memories of external experiences which occurred from infancy to about age 5. Since most external events in infants/children occur with parents, these memories are related to the actions of parents.
  • Child: the memories which make up the child ego are also formed from birth to about age five. However, unlike with the parent ego, the child ego consists of memories occurring from internal forces. They primarily consist of emotions or feelings to certain situations.
  • Adult: the adult ego is different from the parent and child egos because it mainly serves to interpret information for later use.

Transactional analysis shows that these egos all have a role in our transactions with others. For example, a child’s parent was prone to shouting during confrontational situations. Shouting then is stored as part of the parent ego. During confrontation, the grown child may react by shouting.

Berne also defines “games” as part of transactional analysis. Games are series of transactions which exhibit patterns or ulterior motives. There is always some sort of reward involved for each participant in the game – such as sympathy or attention. Games are very common in relationships. For example a child and parent may bargain about the child’s bedtime.

Transactional Analysis in Therapy

Transactional analysis can be used in various therapeutic approaches, including cognitive, psychoanalysis and humanistic. As a therapeutic process, transactional analysis acknowledges that people are influenced by the expectations and demands of others, particularly during childhood. These influences can lead to patterns in our behaviors which may be destructive.

In therapy, patients will be encouraged to explore the relationships and experiences which built their egos. Once the cause of these patterns are discovered, the patient and therapist can work together to overcome the patterns and live life free from any destructive qualities of ego.

Transactional analysis therapy can be used for a wide range of psychological disorders including relational disorders. There are various techniques which can be utilized with transactional analysis, such as role playing, dream analysis, questioning, and analysis. In transactional analysis therapies, the patients will always be directly involved in the process. Patients are regarded as equals to the therapist. Berne believed that patients and their therapists should make clear contracts about goals and actively work to obtain those goals

Uses of Transactional Analysis

Transactional analysis is commonly used as a sole approach to therapy and in conjunction with other therapies. Transaction analysis is also very useful for training counselors, teachers, managers, and others who work in a group dynamic.


“Detailed History and Description of Transactional Analysis.” Eric Berne. Web. Sept 2011.

The International Transactional Analysis Association. The International Transactional Analysis Association (ITAA). Web. Sept 2011.


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